The bridge that crossed the time
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 13/02/2022Back to Blog
There is a theory that time does not actually exist. It is an invention of humans to understand their life. All events happen at the same time, but to be able to follow them, we have defined the meaning of time. I do not know if that is true, and neither can I say that I understand how it works. But for the story that I will tell you, it has a deeper meaning.
Sotiroula was born in the village of Marathovounos, in the Famagusta district of Cyprus, in the early 1940s. That is where she spent her childhood. Later the whole family immigrated to Australia.
When the war of 1974 took place, thousands of people left their villages and their homes, including the inhabitants of Marathovounos. In every house they abandoned, they had lived many moments of their lives and their dreams and hopes were stored in every corner of it. After so many years and the elimination of any natural component that constituted them, one could say that the identity of these places has been completely altered. But there are the memories of the people and if these memories live, the existence of their home and village remains alive.
Sotiroula’s memories keep her grandmother’s house alive, even if today in its place there is nothing, even if every stone that constituted it was pulverized. Through the narration that follows, we will accompany Sotiroula as she walks around the house and with her, we will give it life and duration in time.
Today, was a great day for young Sotiroula. Her grandmother Lazarou would come to take her to her home, to sleep there one night. She got up in the morning, she wore her dress with the blue flowers, put on her red shoes, brought to her from Nicosia by Uncle Venizelos and ran to her mother. Milia (from Emilia) was feeding her younger brother Yiannis. She waited patiently for her mom to finish with Yiannis and asked her to comb her hair. Sotiroula’s hair was blonde and her eyes light-colored. She looked like her grandmother, Lazarou. Milia made her a parting on the right side and grabbed her hair to the other side with a brace.
She sat at the entrance of her house and waited for her grandmother. Grandma Lazarou did not take long to come. She had the same anxiety as her granddaughter. They both wanted to spend the day together.
-Grandma, Sotiroula asked before they leave, will you tell me two fairy tales to sleep with you tonight?
-I’ll tell you, don’t worry, grandma replied.
Grandmother Lazarou was a tall woman, straight, with wide shoulders. When she was young, her hair was blonde and her eyes blue. Now her hair had turned white. She wore black clothes and a shawl on her head because she was a widow. Her husband Yiannis had died young, a few months after Sotiroula’s birth.
Sotiroula walked with her grandmother in the streets of the village. All the villagers they found, greeted them and others chatted with them. Sotiroula was jumping joyfully.
-Venizelos and Kostas came from Nicosia, and we should wash their clothes.
-I will help too, Sotiroula said willingly.
Two of her uncles – because Sotiroula had a total of four uncles on her mother’s side – lived and worked in Nicosia. They had rented a room in the courtyard of the church of Agios Kassianos and stayed there. One was a shoemaker, and the other was tailoring shirts. Sometimes, grandma used to go and stay with in Nicosia, to take care of them, but she did not like it much. She preferred her village.
As they arrived at grandma’s house, Sotiroula looked at it with admiration. It was high and much bigger than theirs. Entering inside, at the left was a large room that had the beds of her uncles, a wardrobe, and an oblong table, with a large mirror on the wall above it. The mirror was directly opposite the door and so Sotiroula, entering, saw herself reflected. With a mincing manner, she held her dress and boasted on the flowers it had on it. She stood on her toes, to see her red shoes, and she felt very happy for her appearance. High up on the wall there was a shelf that had on a series of dishes adorned with cocks. Here Sotiroula made a stop. She looked at them carefully, saw their colourful tails, their red crests, the leaves, and flowers that adorned the edge of the dish and made stories in her mind. That rooster on the third plate from the right, with the yellow head, was definitely bad. His gaze was wild, while the other, on the second plate, with the blue head, looked good.
-Where are the hens? She wondered.
She had once asked her grandmother but got no answer.
In the innermost room, which was the cellar of the house, there was a korypostas (stand for korypas – clay containers for water). The water was carried to the houses and stored here. These pitchers were covered on top, so water would stay clean. Above the koryposta were hung the baskets with the breads. Grandma made bread once a week and kept it high up here so that the mice could not reach it and stay clean. At one end was the sede (storage space). It had two levels, with a marble floor (a kind of marble, of Cypriot origin). On the highest level, grandmother kept the wheat and barley, arranged, separately, at both ends. On the lower level she kept in large containers, halloumi, sausages, olive oil, and many other supplies that she made sure to maintain in their cellar, to have to eat all year round. Sotiroula saw this large space full of supplies and thought that her grandmother was rich and had a lot of food.
In the background, behind the cellar, were other rooms, closed and very dark, that Sotiroula was afraid to visit. They were the rooms where lived, when he was alive, grandfather Tylliros with his wife, the in-laws of grandma Lazarou, who were the original owners of the house.
In front of the big room, was heliakos (a hall with sun). This room had no wall on the side of the courtyard, to be illuminated by the sun. It was protected with high wooden railings so that the sheep, they had in their stables, would not enter the house. From the milk they received from these animals, grandmother made halloumi and anari (soft cheese). She used to put them in small wooden cabinets that had all their sides lined with thin wire mesh, armaroloudes as they were called, so that the anari cheese could be ventilated and sunbathed and hung them on the wooden fence. Grandmother made so many quantities of halloumi and anari, that she also sold some to the villagers.
To the left of the heliakos was a space with a marble floor, in irregular shapes, not squared as in the other rooms of the house. Here they kept the food for the animals, such as rovin (type of cereal for animals) and rovassieron (straw from rovin stems)
Sotiroula, after wandering in all these rooms, decided to proceed to the dining room. She leaned out the door and looked inside. Uncle Stavris sat at the table and ate eggs, halloumi, and sausages. Uncle Stavris was her oldest uncle. As we said, she had four uncles. The first one was Stavris, the second Patsouris (Panagiotis), then Venizelos and the youngest was Kostas. Her three eldest uncles were tall and blondish, like Grandma Lazarou. Her mother, Milia and Uncle Kostas, were shorter and browner, they looked like grandfather Yiannis, who had died. She stayed looking at the uncle eating, but she felt shy to enter the room.
This room was not called “dining room” in her grandmother’s house, they called it “there in that we eat”. As she could secretly see from the door, she noticed a stand for the dishes, which was placed on one side of the wall, which apart from the dishes contained the cutlery. On the opposite wall were placed the chairs and the table in the middle of the room.
Sotiroula wanted to go to her grandmother who was in the kitchen, and so she entered the dining room, shyly greeted her uncle, and ran to find her grandmother.
The kitchen contained a series of hobs (niskies) for cooking. They were built high enough that the people did not have to bend over. Underneath they put wood to burn and in this way they baked their food. In the end, it was a larger hearth in which they placed a large cauldron, where they boiled the water for washing clothes and having a bath. In the same cauldron, they boiled the milk to make halloumi and anari cheese. She found her grandmother washing the clothes in the large stone round trough, located to the right of the kitchen.
-Grandma, I want to help you! Suggested Sotiroula.
-It’s too high for you up here, grandma said. Go and collect the eggs from the chicken coop.
Sotiroula really liked this job. She took a small basket, ran out into the yard, and entered the first of the two stables that her grandmother’s house had. Here on the edge stayed the hens along with the donkey. All the families of the village had donkeys to carry the water and cultivate the fields. Sotiroula collected the eggs from the hens, talked a little with the donkey and before going home, she visited the larger stable where they kept the sheep. Now it was empty because Uncle Patsouris had taken the herd to graze out in the plains. Uncle Patsouris took care of the sheep and when he would get married he would take them with him. What impressed Sotiroula, in this stable, was that its roof stopped at one point and a void was created, so that the light would enter and not to be dark.
She remembered one day, on another visit to her grandmother, she saw how they milked the sheep. They put them all at one end of the yard and grandmother sat in the middle with a large clay pot, which they called galeftiri and, with the help of Uncle Venizelos, milked them one by one. Uncle held the ewe and grandmother did the milking, by pressing rhythmically on the udders of the animal. Then they put them back in the stable. Sotiroula was very fond of little lambs and when the ewes gave birth, she would go, hug the lambs, and play with them.
In the yard was a built wood oven and two troughs for the animals to drink water. One was large, irregularly shaped for the sheep and the other small (vourni) for the hens to drink. Even though they had so many animals, her grandmother’s yard was clean, because every day she wiped her.
By the time she returned to the kitchen, her grandmother had finished laundry and went out into the yard to hang the clothes to dry.
-Set up the table, and we will eat in a while, she told Sotiroula. Just for four. Stavris has already eaten, Patsouris is in the plain, it’s just us, Venizelos, and Kostas.
Sotiroula was happy to set the table. She was excited to eat with her uncles. They told her stories about Chora (Nicosia) and did all her favours. They were both very good with her. Venizelos was her favourite, but she also loved Kostas very much. Uncle Kostas had an accident when he was young and had a deformity left on his right shoulder. But that did not change anything in his sweet character. Her grandmother had told her that he had finished primary school with honours and was given queen Victoria’s medal. Unfortunately, he did not go to high school, even though he would love it. But he was studying on his own.
These two uncles of hers were very studious and progressive. Sotiroula really liked to be with them.
In the afternoon, her grandmother made halloumi and anari cheese. She boiled the milk in the large cauldron for quite some time and initially made the halloumi. After, with the remains that stayed in the cauldron, she made the anari cheese. She put them to dry on a long wood with dents which had a channel for the liquids to strain. (This liquid was collected, add to bran, and became food for the hens or even the pigs, when they had any). Grandma told Sotiroula to put her mouth under the channel to drink the liquid herself, which was very tasty, but she did not want to.
In the evening, they went to lie down on the grandmother’s bed that was in the upper floor.
-Grandma, will you tell me about Grandpa Yiannis? Sotiroula pleaded.
-What can I tell you? He was my husband; he was a very kind and polite person. Furthermore, he liked to have fun, and he had a lot of friends. He was a shoemaker and had his shop next to your house. On the main road of the village, opposite the inn. People from all the surrounding villages, up to the villages of Kyrenia, used to come to his shop to have their boots made. They left their donkeys in the inn and went to grandpa. Every noon, he used to bring somebody home for lunch. I had to fry eggs, halloumi, sausages, whatever that I had. This house belonged to him. But he had died young…
Grandma’s eyes filled with tears, and Sotiroula noticed it.
-Tell me grandma the fairy tales you have promised me, she immediately changed the subject.
So, grandmother began to narrate and Sotiroula fell asleep. In her sleep she saw the evil rooster, coming out of the dish and chasing her, but grandpa Yiannis came and drove him away.
In the morning, when she woke up, Grandma Lazarou had already got up. She heard a commotion on the ground floor and remembered that her mother would have come for making breads. She dressed in a hurry and went down to the kitchen.
What was going on there! Grandma kneaded in a large trough, placed on a stool in a corner of the kitchen, and her mother made the breads and put them on a long wood with dents (about 10) to inflate and take shape, until they were ready to be taken to the oven, which was lit out in the yard. Her brother, Yiannis, slept on a chair.
-I want to help, said Sotiroula willingly.
-Come and make the “glistarkes”, her mother told her.
She gave her a piece of dough and showed her to form it in long sticks, wrap them in sesame seeds and initially make a large circle. Then, to put smaller sticks horizontally and vertically, inside the circle, creating a grid. These were the “glistarkes”. She placed them in pans to be cooked last, after the breads, when the oven would cool enough to let them stay inside, until they dried and became crispy.
The busy going and coming to and from the oven, the smell of freshly baked bread, the successful making of the “glistarkes”, by her, made Sotiroula very happy. She felt that the whole world was here at her grandmother’s house.
When they later sat down to eat breakfast, they tasted the hot bread and fresh anari (mizithra) with honey, Sotiroula decided that she would, never forget this day. She would keep it alive in her memory, no matter how many years would pass. This was the real life of her grandmother, her village, but also of her origin.
This story was written based on Sotiroula’s memories of her village and her grandmother’s house. I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to cousin Sotiroula for saving these moments in her memory and heart, so that I can record them in the hope that they will stay for the future generations.